Lamar Jackson on Path to Legend Status in Baltimore
Lamar Jackson has only played two NFL seasons, but the Ravens quarterback already is being mentioned in the same breath with Baltimore's most revered sports legends.
He appears destined to join Charm City's transcendent athletes, an elite group that includes the Ravens' Ray Lewis, Colts' Johnny Unitas and Orioles' Cal Ripken Jr., Brooks Robinson and Frank Robinson, The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker wrote.
"[Jackson] has lifted a franchise and fanbase at a time when bleak headlines — another mayor felled by allegations of corruption, 348 homicides in 2019 — predominate," Walker wrote. "His refusal to be held down by the low expectations of others makes him a powerfully appropriate hero for the youth of his adopted home."
Ripken, who has a suite at M&T Bank Stadium and never misses a Ravens home game, recently gave Jackson the ultimate endorsement when he told The Athletic's Dan Connolly that Jackson is "the No. 8 in Baltimore now."
Jackson and Ripken have more in common than the same uniform number. Ripken won the American League MVP award in his second full season at 23 years old; Jackson, 23, is expected to be named the NFL MVP tomorrow night in his second season.
"There's an excitement level that goes through the area that you don't know, you're not familiar with," Ripken said of having so much success at a young age. "You're appreciating it, but these are all new experiences, and you don't know what you're capable of and what you're not, or what the future holds. ... The cool part about Lamar is he's living in the moment and he has perspective, but he's also finding out exactly how good he can be."
Ripken isn't the only Baltimore-born baseball legend Jackson is being compared to.
"Though I never saw Babe Ruth play in person, I expect that the best correlation in terms of athletic superiority would be in comparing what Lamar demonstrates on the football field to the Bambino's home run prowess," said Mike Gibbons, emeritus director of the Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum. "No one had ever seen a ball powdered the way Ruth connected. No one has ever seen the kind of skill set Jackson brings to the gridiron."
Lewis told Walker that he realized Jackson was special when they spoke for the first time, after the Ravens drafted the quarterback in 2018.
"I'm sitting there telling the kid, 'Your time is coming. Guess what young boy? This city will love you. We've been waiting for this,'" Lewis said. "And it's just beautiful to watch him live it out. I tell people all the time there's no amount of money that could make me trade out the legacy I have in Baltimore. And this young guy has a chance to add on to that and become the Johnny Unitas or the Ray Lewis or the Michael Phelps."
Jackson's reaction to being mentioned in the same breath with Baltimore's sports icons is what you'd expect from someone with his humble demeanor. He realizes he's not there yet, and he also knows all of those players brought championships to the city.
"That's dope," Jackson replied when Walker asked if he'd appreciate being linked to such greats. "That definitely would be, because this is only my second year. Those guys have been legendary for years. I have a long way [to go] to catch up, and I just have to keep grinding, trying to keep getting better. I have to bring my own championship here, so I don't really want to really set on that like, 'Yeah, you're one of the greatest.' Not yet, I don't see that."
Ratings Show Jackson and Ravens Were Must-See TV
Jackson did more than put up big numbers on the field this season; he also performed well in living rooms across the nation, and in Baltimore in particular.
In 2019, Jackson and the 14-2 Ravens were must-see TV.
"Numbers from Nielsen Research detail a dramatic increase in the TV audience for Ravens telecasts in 2019 nationally and locally, where the boost is eye popping in some areas, especially among younger viewers in the Baltimore market," The Baltimore Sun's David Zurawik wrote.
"Nationally, Ravens games on CBS were up 8 percent year to year, according to Nielsen ratings provided by CBS. But in Baltimore, Ravens telecasts were up 41 percent, according to Nielsen ratings provided by [Baltimore CBS affiliate] WJZ. Furthermore, all five of WJZ's locally-produced 'Purple' Ravens shows were up by double digits, with the 'Purple Post Game' show increasing its audience by 51 percent among viewers 25-54 year to year."
Robert J. Thompson, professor of TV and popular culture at Syracuse University, told Zurawik that Jackson's impact goes far beyond TV ratings.
"Jackson seems like he was sent from Central Casting or created by some really smart person in an NFL PR lab: young, likable, friendly, modest ... loves his mom ― and a quarterback who represents the city in important ways," Thompson said. "And really, really good at what he does."
Could There Be Two Lamar Jacksons on Ravens in 2020?
There's no denying that Jackson is one of a kind, but there's a good chance he won't be the only Lamar Jackson playing in the NFL next season.
Nebraska cornerback and 2020 draft prospect Lamar Jackson said he wouldn't mind sharing a locker room with the man he shares a name with.
"Baltimore is a great place. Lamar Jackson at quarterback, he's going to lead the Ravens to a Super Bowl, and at the end of the day, I want to win," Nebraska's Jackson said on Glenn Clark Radio. "I want to be successful. It's a team sport. Him at quarterback and me at corner, I feel like there's going to be some money in marketing.
"It'd be a great thing just to go against each other in practice, all types of things. He can have the fame. At the end of the day, I'm trying to take care of my family and myself and eventually I'll be able to build my own legacy. He's doing it now, so no knock on him. I just want to get in the door, just take it from there."
Nebraska's Jackson said he's gotten used to being the second-most famous football-playing Lamar Jackson.
"It's pretty much one of those things where even when I was in high school, I pretty much look at my name on Google for example and I see another dude," he said. "He's in Florida, a kid that went viral, a quarterback at the same time I was playing quarterback. At first there was really nothing to it, but of course as the other Lamar Jackson was on his football journey, he became a star. He won the Heisman. He became who he was. It's one of those things where I'm just like, 'The magic might just be in the name.'"
Nebraska's Jackson said he often gets mistaken for the Ravens star on social media.
"You can probably just say on social media I get tagged and a whole lot of appreciation, tweeting at me, 'You're amazing, you're great.' But then one of the fans will be like, 'Wrong Lamar Jackson,'" he said. "Back in the day, when I got certain stuff, just depending on where the fans are coming from, I kind of already know. I'm like, 'Wow. They thought I was him.' My [twitter handle] and stuff like that has '21' in it. All you have to do is really click it and see I'm a totally different person."
Sunday Will Be Tough, But Future Is Bright
When Super Bowl LIV between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers kicks off Sunday, it would be understandable if Ravens fans get a sick feeling in their stomach, and not because they've had too much seven-layer dip.
Yes, it still stings that the Ravens fell short of their goal of reaching and winning the Super Bowl, but fans can take some solace in the fact that this team is just getting started. Viewed by many prognosticators as a fringe playoff team before the start of the season, the Ravens proved to be further along than expected and are built to contend for a championship next season and beyond.
"It starts with a 23-year-old quarterback who was arguably the NFL's most dynamic playmaker this season and still has room for growth," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "Every Ravens offensive starter is under contract for at least one more year. The secondary, the strength of the defense, could lose a player or two and yet it still would be considered one of the top defensive backfields in the NFL.
"To this point, the Ravens haven't lost a single coordinator or position coach from a staff that led the team to a 14-2 record. [General Manager Eric] DeCosta has more cap space at this disposal than the Ravens have had in years and a few extra draft picks in the middle rounds, where the front office and scouting staff has a history of finding key contributors."
The Ravens are one of the 30 teams who won't be playing Sunday, but they have every right to believe they're in a better position than most to be playing on Super Sunday next year.
"I think we're going to learn from this," Pro Bowl left tackle Ronnie Stanley said of the Ravens' loss to the Tennessee Titans in the AFC divisional playoffs. "We're going to only get better. We have a very young team. I think we're going to look back on this season as the beginning part of a dynasty, a great thing."